NPR logo A Case of the Hebe Jeebies

Native Vs. Exotic Plants

A Case of the Hebe Jeebies

No sooner did they hit the PLAY button on my Hebe piece that aired on Morning Edition today, that it hit me, Uh oh! I'm a sitting duck for the Native Plant Police, or NPP (not to be confused with that triumverate of nutrients, NPK).

Introducing the genus Hebe, a New Zealand shrub that comes in tons of delicious foliage and flower choices but resents humidity and low temperatures. Sorry to wet/whet/worry your whistle if it's out of your hardiness zone! photo by KL hide caption

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photo by KL

If you're unfamiliar with this family feud concerning native vs. non-native plants, you'll be surprised to learn it bears a slight but sordid resemblance to the current controversy over immigration issues right here at home.

The botanical argument goes that non-native plants have done irreparable harm to our environment. (Take a look at what kudzu, ivy and other non-delectables have done in the U.S. and you'll see the picture.) They overwhelm native plants, deprive them of their habitat, and wreak havoc with the ecosystem in countless ways.

The solution, some argue, is to banish non-native plants from the garden in an attempt to restore a very delicate balance and celebrate the inherent birthright of North American plants.

But not all non-native (aka exotic) plants are invasive. Far from it; they're some of the most sublime and well-behaved plants one could have. We'd be bereft of enormous beauty, joy and genes if we were forced to garden only with plants that were native before the Spanish, Portuguese, French, Dutch and of course English arrived.

So why do I feel like a sitting duck? Because my feature about the hebe - a wonderful New Zealand shrub - celebrates all kinds of exotics. So in an attempt to ward off any tedious mail about my non-ecological sympathies, I refer any naysayers to my last story about conserving native seed.

Alternatively, if I was defensive (I am NOT! I am NOT!), I could suggest that those gunning for me take a cold jump in a duckweed-covered lake.

I'll be the one wearing flippers...